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Social Storytelling: Ways to Create Myth and Lore

Originally Posted on Author's Blog

There is still a great gap between social storytelling and social media. It’s not nearly as wide as the gulf on Facebook between conservatives and liberals. But it’s a gap nonetheless.

The marketer in me says that if I get too far down the storytelling path, the “call to action” for my client may be overlooked within the content. However, social storytellers would say the application of a defined message from an external source could corrupt or misalign the audience’s attention.

So let’s look at some fundamental practices you can utilize with your social media engagement to establish storytelling.

Ask and then build

Probably the easiest way to create a social story is to simply ask questions. 

What’s your favorite thing to do at an airport before a long flight? 

Throw out something like that to your audience and wait for the thread to establish itself. Once the conversation is underway, you have fertile ground on which to tell a story that aligns with the conversation. 

This is delicate territory because you need to take into account the focus of the conversation at any given time. When you ask a question, you don’t own it right away. If you try to make an irrelevant point just because it fits the vision of where you HOPED the thread would go, then you become the biggest douchebag on the thread.

Once you have established a controlled conversation within the (ideally) controlled parameters, you should take the opportunity to lead your audience into more questions. Ask your friends, fans and followers to pose the same question to their secondary and tertiary groups. This requires a balance of recruitment and conversation. You want your audience to bring their trusted alliances under your wing.

Drop them in

I grew up as the child of a single mom. Early on I realized it was going to take a while for me to establish my identity at school and in our town. But before I could find my way – the bullies found me. Clearly my road was going to be tougher than anticipated. It makes me sad to hear about teen suicide brought on by bullying. It’s unfathomable to imagine how my world would implode if my child took her life. That doesn’t fit our world view. It’s out of order. Frankly, I don’t know if I could ever move beyond that experience. 

The previous statement was all true. I was bullied as a child. By sharing that story, I’ve peeled back a layer of the onion and revealed a little about myself. With any luck I’ve managed to move the audience in my intended direction. Therefore, personal history can make a profound impact as long as you can properly weave it into your end goals.

The rabbit hole

This method is for folks who are savvy to transmedia storytelling, as well as their elderly predecessors the alternate reality gamers (ARG, ARG’rs and the ARGN), and “puppet masters.” The Rabbit Hole is far more complex than simply creating a story from the front and guiding people through the content.

By its very nature, the rabbit hole asks an audience member to drop in to a pre-existing world that they didn’t know existed. Just like Alice in Wonderland. We the storytellers have to go way above and beyond by creating every facet of this world prior to letting anyone in. The more time you take and the higher level of detail you provide within your story-based world, the more likely your audience is to commit itself to spend time within its walls.

Divide and conquer 

Remember the “choose your own adventure” books you read as a kid? You would read a few pages and then be introduced to an option. If you want to go to the castle, turn to page 72. If you think you should follow the wizard, turn to page 18. Each path constructs a different storyline. I recently saw the same techniques being utilized in a mobile game called  “The Walking Dead” based on the successful television program on AMC.

To make this a little easier, you simply drop someone into the “rabbit hole” with multiple caveats that re-create the story depending on the nature of their interest. This technique often takes more time to nurture properly because you have audience loyalties that lie in multiple directives. Therefore your role becomes more community manager and communication guide. Do your best to listen and engage, and not simply poke the anthill with a stick.

Scheduled thematic consistency

One of the last ways to develop a story within the context of your social media is to pepper it within your messaging. This Transmedia storytelling technique is used with greater frequency to establish loyalty with larger brands, and develop loyalty within its participants. 

What does all that mean Justice?

Most specifically it means living the voice of the brand. The best brands in the world have a story that resonates through the fabric of all their conversations. So no matter what they are discussing in a social context, be it a product, service or whatever, it all comes from the essence that makes that brand great. Think of the brand you’re most loyal to. Reverse engineer what they’re telling you and see if it leads back to their brand. Chances are it will.

I would love to hear more about what you think are priorities in establishing a story, and conveying it to your audience utilizing social media. I firmly believe that as storytellers, marketers, brand builders and entrepreneurs, we must learn to reinterpret our consumer into a unique individual that requires an interpersonal connection.

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